Welcome to Vintage Railroad Postcards!

Thank you for stopping by! This is the blog for the Russell P. Panecki Collection of vintage railroad-related postcards. The entire collection consists of nearly one thousand so far with images dating from circa 1904 to the 1950s. To leave a comment, ask a question, to contribute or correct historical information, a comment box is located to the left for your convenience.

Each page, including this homepage, has an index located in the lower portion of the page. In addition to the index, posts were updated with historical information, new postcards added from storage files, while some posts were completely rewritten or edited for corrections. Three articles have been added and are worth reading. They include how vintage postcards were made, the history of Pennsylvania Station, and the history of Grand Central Terminal.

My apologies, but the postcards in my collection and on this blog are not available for sale, copying, or for contribution to projects. Please keep in mind that I reserve all rights to the images and content of this blog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Philadelphia and Reading Railway

The Early Years

The Philadelphia and Reading Railway was chartered April 4, 1833 as one of the first railroads constructed in the United States and was built with the sole purpose of hauling anthracite coal from the rich mines located in Pennsylvania's northeastern coalfields to Philadelphia. At the time, coal was replacing wood used as fuel in homes, businesses, and in Industrial Age factories. Completed in 1843, the ninety-three mile mainline extended from Pottsville and then south through Reading and to Philadelphia at a new terminal that opened in 1859. The P&R chose to invest in anthracite coal and its transport making it very profitable at first. When Franklin B. Gowen became the railroad's president in 1869, he attempted to take control of the entire anthracite coal business in Pennsylvania instead of focusing on the expansion of the railroad. With the advent of steam engines aboard ships, Gowen anticipated an increase in demand for anthracite coal and the railroad built a coal facility named Port Richmond in Philadelphia to load coal into ships and barges for export. Declared to be the "largest privately-owned railroad tidewater terminal in the world", it occupied over two hundred and thirty acres of the Delaware River front; an estimated 2.25 million tons of anthracite was moved through the facility by middle of the 1870s. In 1871, the P&R established a subsidiary called the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company that began buying anthracite mines in the coal districts for lucrative shipments by sea; the P&R had almost full control of coal from mining through to market.

Growth and Bankruptcies

With an aggressive growth strategy that included the purchasing of coal land, mines, and buying up or leasing other railroads in the region, the P&R became the largest company in the world. The ambitious growth of the railroad and its coal business, owning over 40 percent of country's anthracite reserves at the time, created an unmanageable debt and forced the railroad into bankruptcy in 1880 followed by a second bankruptcy 1886. Gowen was forced to resign and was replaced by a new president, Archibald A. McLeod. His vision was to further the company's control over the Pennsylvania's coal industry and to turn the P&R into a major trunk line railroad through mergers and control of other railroads. In 1891 he was able to gain control of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Boston and Maine Railroad in New England, and the Lehigh Valley Railroad. 

McLeod decided that coal loads from Port Richmond took too long by ships that had to navigate around Cape May, New Jersey in order to bring coal to New York City. To speed up the shipments, the P&R built a new rail and barge coal handling facility named Port Reading on the Arthur Kill shipping channel between Staten Island, New York, and the mainland of New Jersey. The P&R's short Port Reading Railroad connected with the Trenton, New Jersey with the line biginning operations in 1892. By the time the new Reading Terminal in Philadelphia was completed in 1893, the railroad's entire system was made up of about forty small railroads and its control of the CNJ, B&M, and LV railroads. In this 1891 lithograph, we see a rendition of the terminal in Philadelphia. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

Steam Power and the Wootton Firebox

In 1877 John E. Wootten patented a locomotive boiler specifically designed for the use of anthracite coal. Anthracite was a slow-burning, hard coal that required a very large grate area to achieve the same heat as the much smaller firebox used for the softer, faster burning bituminous coal. His firebox was very wide and shallow at the bottom and had a large radius top. The P&R used Wootten fireboxes on most of its steam locomotives starting first in 1880. In the 1940's a mixture of hard and soft coal was in used and the railroad finally changed over to the complete use of the soft bituminous coal that required the modification of the fireboxes; they lasted on all of the steam locomotives right up to the time of dieselization. In this 1907 photograph shows the size of the Wootton firebox, located at the rear of the locomotive, that required the cab to be located in the center. This type of steam engine were popularly referred to as "Mother Hubbard" and "camel-back" locomotives. The P&R had a large fleet of these engines in a variety of wheel arrangements. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The  Philadelphia & Reading in Postcards 

The Outer Station in Reading, Pennsylvania was built by the P&R in 1874. This circa 1910 card shows the station and train sheds from the end of the yard looking towards the station. Note the double slip switch in the trackage near the center.

In this circa 1910 postcard view of the station in Norristown, Pennsylvania we see the ornate structure and its busy platform with a camel-back locomotive and passenger train approaching under a signal bridge. Note the mix of semaphores and early banjo-style signals. 

This circa 1900 card gives us an idea of what a luxurious experience dining on board the P&R was like. With leather, well-upholstered chairs and polished wood interiors, the railroad provided its passengers in the highly competitive New York City market with first-class trains between New York and Philadelphia. The car was most likely built by the railroad car division of Harlan & Hollingsworth in Wilmington, Delaware. Note the polished floor ashtrays next to the chairs. Very often mistaken for spittoons, spitting was not only unacceptable behavior for such an upper class clientele, it was unsanitary as well as unhygienic when the spread of tuberculosis was a major national problem. 

The words "Private Mailing Card - Authorized by the Act of Congress on May 19th, 1898" were required to be printed on the back of all postcards that were not issued by the United States Post Office. Regulations required the cards be in the size at 3 1/4" by 5 1/2" inches and printed in light colors on the reverse side such as the one seen here of the dining car interior card above. The words "Postal Card (Carte Postal)" meant that  indicated a postcard could be sent to another country. This is the oldest postcard in the collection.

The Reading Company Years

The continuous mounting debt caused by constant expansion and construction led to yet another bankruptcy that resulted in McLeod's removal too as president of the railroad. Unlike its previous bankruptcies, the railroad's 1893 bankruptcy was a financial collapse helped to trigger a serious economic depression in the country known as The Panic of 1893. Caused by railroads overbuilding and their rather precarious financing, the panic led to the further failure of hundreds of banks and businesses dependent upon the P&R and other railroads. The stock markets soon plunged, European investors began to pull out their United States investments, and the depression soon spread to Europe. Under the suspicion of having become a monopoly, newly-elected president Joseph Smith Harris was forced into leading a reorganization of the P&R and the Reading Company was then formed as a holding company for both the railroad and its coal subsidiaries. Further, the Hepburn Act of 1906 required that railroads divest themselves of all mining property and operations forcing the Reading Company to sell its P&R Coal and Iron Company. Through the development of on-line industries, however, the Reading Company became a viable, regional bridge line and not the powerful trunk line railroad envisioned by its former presidents Gowen and McLeod.

After around 1915, the Reading Company began to replace its wood-bodied cars with all-steel heavyweight passenger equipment. In this period card we see the plush interior of one of the new dining cars that were possibly built by the famous railroad car and shipbuilding company of Harlan & Hollingsworth; in 1904 the firm was bought by Bethlehem Steel that continued to construct railroad cars up to 1940. Note the glass water decanters on each table.

Although the Reading Company did not operate long-distance passenger trains, the road did run some regional name trains such as the famous Crusader from Jersey City, New Jersey, to Philadelphia, the Harrisburg Special and the Queen of the Valley from Jersey City to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the Wall Street from Jersey City to Philadelphia. The Wall Street was a commuter train that sped over the busy tracks between the Reading Terminal in Philadelphia and the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Communipaw Terminal in Jersey City where passengers could board ferries for their destinations in lower Manhattan. In this card, postmarked in 1938, we see the Wall Street at speed whisking commuters below  a signal bridge on the busy line.

The Crusader

As the Reading's premier express train between New York and Philadelphia, The Crusader made its first regular run on December 13, 1937. With cars built by the famous streamlined passenger car building firm, the Budd Company of Philadelphia, The Crusader had a consist of two all stainless steel coaches, two observation cars and a tavern-dining car placed between the  coaches. The two observation cars were located at each end of the passenger cars and eliminated the need to turn the entire train to be turned around at the completion of each trip; only the locomotive had to be turned. For motive power, two identical stainless steel-clad Pacific type 4-6-2 wheel arrangement locomotives were used. Each locomotive had a coal tender with stainless steel panels that extended out and hid the rounded end of the observation car providing a seamless appearance as seen in the in the stylized promotional image show below. Image reference courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Below is the train's first schedule that included ferry times and the announcement of the new train's naming contest. The winner of the $250.00 grand prize was P.W. Silzer from Plainfield, New Jersey. Image reference courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 A Most Disgraceful Death

The Reading Company was forced  into its final bankruptcy in 1971. On April 1, 1976, the it sold the last of its railroad operations to the new federal government-owned Consolidated Railroad Corporation (Conrail), that left it with only real estate including coal properties and fifty two abandoned lines of track. Afterwords, in 1999, most of the Reading lines became part of the Norfolk Southern Railway. In the late 1980s, a Los Angeles attorney, James Cotter, gained control of the Reading Company through his own holding organization, the Craig Corporation. In 1991 Philadelphia's Reading Terminal, the last piece of railroad-related property, was sold off. What ever remained of the once-famous railroad with a history that extended back to 1833 was sadly gone; in 1996 the word Company was dropped and the name Reading was used to form an international chain of cinemas known today as Reading Entertainment.

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